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Scrivener's abomination Part I

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

The following post is from an upcoming book on the history of the text of the King James Bible. It will come in a few installments.

Scrivener Muddies the Water

So far we have seen five editions of the King James Bible pass through the universities’ stewardship. We have seen that the translators wrote the word of God by hand and delivered it to the King’s printer. We can pretty well surmise that that same original manuscript was destroyed and lost to history other than in what was preserved in notes and copies the translators themselves kept safe at the universities. We know that the King’s printer then rendered that same manuscript into a printed bible and we know that he did a pretty terrible job and that the more he printed the worse he got until eventually he was sued and put into jail for being unable to pay his fines. The king’s printer represents the second rendering of the King James Bible. In 1629 we know that Cambridge stepped in and rescued the word of God by asserting their right to print. That 1629 edition printed under Cambridge’s auspices is a remarkably well printed and edited bible, but it is essentially same bible as the King’s printer produced but with far greater care shown in its printing.

We know that in 1638 Cambridge University introduced its landmark 1638 Bible which must be considered the second purification of the King James Bible text. This rendition of the King James Bible had the longest run of any of the seven purifications. It represents the influence of the original notes and text under the guidance of living translators to clean up errors in the printings from 1611 until 1638. It was this text that was published not only by Cambridge but even more successfully by Oxford. It was this text that Blaney referred to when he mentioned the Bishop Lloyd Bible of 1701[1]. It was a work of high quality, but it suffered from an antiquated font, antiquated spelling and the inability of printers to keep a consistent product on the table. It reigned from 1638 till 1762 making it the longest running single version of the King James Bible in its 400 some year history.

For a brief time the 1762 Parris Bible was the clearest and most error free bible on the market. Though its reign was brief, its use of modern fonts, modern spellings and punctuation represent the 3rd purification and 4th rendition of the King James Bible. It was quickly replaced by the 4th and possibly the most famous purification, the Blaney Bible. The Blaney Bible was printed at Oxford between 1769 and 1893. It was printed at Cambridge between approximately 1785 until 1873 and then intermittently under contract to various organizations such as the British and Foreign Bible Society in the last decade of the 19th century and until WWI. Yet the work does not end with Blaney. It was yet to pass through three more purifications.

That brings us to the 5th purification of the King James Bible. This work is troubling for two reasons. It is troubling because it was wrought in a paragraph form as opposed to a verse form, and it is troubling because the editor not only corrected many errors that had survived the editing work of the 1629 editors, the 1638 editors, Dr. Parris, and Benjamin Blaney, but it reintroduced some old errors as well as introduced at least one colossal error of his own. We are talking about F.H.A. Scrivener’s 1873 Paragraph Bible. Cambridge University had hired F.H.A. Scrivener who then spent seven years studying every historical document known to deal with the printing of the King James Bible. He also collated all the previous printings to purify Blaney’s work even further. He published the 1873 Paragraph Bible in which he experimented with a bible in paragraph form as opposed to the traditional verse form. He published a marvelous history of the King James Bible in the bible he printed, and it is to this history that most historians reference. He also published a list of all the changes that he made since he considered them to be errors that crept in over time. Today that same history and his appendix C can be found published separately in a book called The Authorized Edition of the English Bible (1611) Its subsequent Reprints and Modern Representatives[2].

We will see that one of the primary problems with Scrivener’s list of errors is that he found too many and it was subsequent editing that corrected Scrivener’s corrections. Studying where Scrivener overreached and what he got right unlocks some of the last mysteries as to where our modern Cambridge text originated. To understand the Scrivener Paragraph Bible, it is necessary to step back and look at Mr. Scrivener. Scrivener was often lauded as the greatest textual critic of his age. In reading John Burgon’s The Revision Revised[3], and in giving it even a cursory reading, the name of Prebendary Scrivener is interspersed throughout. He is referred to in the most complimentary terms about his accomplishments and scholarship and these compliments always seem to be juxtaposed against the sloppiness and unscholarly work of Messrs. Westcott and Hort.

Cambridge University retained the Rev F. H. A. Scrivener to again collate all principal editions and to make the use of italic type uniform as well as remodel the marginal references. We owe much to Scrivener’s work. Scrivener looms a giant, but a very flawed giant. In regarding Scrivener, I am reminded of a story told about Benedict Arnold. Towards the end of the war when Arnold wore the British uniform and led Tories into combat against his former comrades, he became engaged in a particularly close hand to hand skirmish in the wilds of Virginia. The issue was in some doubt as to who would capture who. Finally, Arnold’s men prevailed and the Colonial militia men were taken captive. Arnold asked the colonial colonel he had captured what he would have done with Arnold had their roles been reversed and it was Arnold who was now being held prisoner. Without hesitation the colonel told Arnold that had he captured Arnold he would have hung him by the neck until dead, and then cut off the leg Arnold had wounded at Quebec and buried it with the highest military honors. Scrivener must be regarded in such a light.

We are indebted to Scrivener for the fifth great purification of the King James Bible. While in the process of collating all the existing texts; and while sifting every scrap of historical evidence to render the King James Bible in its purest form, Scrivener was recruited by the RV committee to help substitute the text of our Authorized Bible and to retranslate it. His dual tasks made strange bedfellows. As he was finishing the task of identifying the last lingering misprints extant in the text, he began to help those who were to seek its destruction. Therefore, Scrivener has the strange distinction of being almost the last man to be used of God in purifying the text of the King James Bible, as well as being one of the men commissioned to destroy it

Whatever we are to ultimately think of the Rev. F. H. A. Scrivener, the King James Bible we use today passed through his hands and was ultimately purified for the better by him. For example, it was Scrivener who corrected the error in Nahum 3:16 in which all bibles had said fleeth instead of flieth since a 1762 typographical error that Blaney did not catch. It was Scrivener who corrected Joshua 19:2 to say, or Sheba, as opposed to the error still retained by the Oxford text which says, and Sheba. Scrivener labored hard to restore the AV1611 to its pristine condition. The Cambridge Bible that we use today is not Scrivener’s work, but it bears Scrivener’s work. Fortunately, Cambridge awoke to the folly of a paragraph bible format and put its bible through a further purification. That last purification is the least well known. Even though the last purification took place at the end of World War I, the printing staff at Cambridge was ignorant of it only 11 years later when in 1929 they celebrated their 300th anniversary of printing the King James Bible.

In their celebratory pamphlet, Three Hundred Years of Printing the Bible 1629-1929[4], the Cambridge printers ascribe their current work to Scrivener. In that pamphlet they say, “In the course of his editorial labours, Dr. Scrivener made a detailed examination of the Cambridge standard copy of the Authorised Version from which all Cambridge editions since 1858 had been set up. Close and repeated examination disclosed remarkably few errata in the text or margins of that book which, amended in the light of Dr. Scrivener’s investigations, remains the standard of the Authorised Version text at Cambridge to the present day, and may be assumed to be as free from typographical error as human effort can provide.”[5]

The problem with that amazing statement is that Cambridge was no longer printing Scrivener’s text and the Cambridge printers didn’t know it. A detailed examination of Scrivener’s Appendix C and the actual text of the 1873 Cambridge Paragraph Bible in comparison to the text being printed in 1929 shows that someone else had further edited the text. This illustrates a point which seems to escape modern scholars trying to unlock the secrets of the King James Bible; the printers themselves are essentially worthless witnesses to the history of the text. In 1611 Barker could not have told us anything worthwhile about the text other than mechanical considerations. We can doubt that any of the men splattered with ink on the grounds of the Cambridge printing shop had any clue as to what the men in the office had altered when they sent them the 1629 and 1638 texts. For sure Baskerville who was an atheist knew nothing of the text other than seeing it as words and letters when he printed in 1763. To suppose that the actual printers are somehow endued with knowledge as to the editors’ motives and reasoning is pure folly. After 11 years of printing a unique text which had been cast into plates after World War I, the Cambridge printers didn’t know it was any different than Scrivener’s text. If we want to know why a feature was changed on an automobile we do not ask the men on the assembly floor. We need to get into the engineering section and ask questions. If we want to know the particulars of the AV1611 text, we do not ask the printers. We must ask the editors.

[1] The Bishop Lloyd Bible represents some of Oxford’s finest work of the early 18th century. It was a large bible printed with a high degree of accuracy but with no further editing than what appeared in the 1638 Cambridge.

[2] This book having passed into the common domain is printed by various publishers and can be obtained easily through an internet search.

[3] Burgon, John. The Revision Revised (Reprinted) New York, Dover Publications. 1971 This book is also available through

[4] Available as a reprint through Vance Publications, Classic Reprints No. 115. PO Box 11781, Pensacola, FL 32524.

[5] Ibid. 14,15

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